MORE Britons will challenge for long distance sailing glory thanks to a sailing school based in The Solent, Hampshire’s Vendee Globe hero Alex Thomson has predicted.
Soon after completing the world’s most brutal yacht race for the first time in third place, he pointed to a new generation of Isle of Wight-based sailors when asked about the chances of a Union Jack one day replacing a Tricolour on top of the Vendee podium.
Having beaten the previous British record by more than a week, Alex is yet to commit to the challenge for a fourth time, but hailed the work being done at the Artemis Offshore Academy in Cowes.
“In England we are very fortunate in having the Artemis Academy for short-handed sailing,” he said.
“They have supported it well, there are some good people coming through the ranks and I sincerely hope we see some more British entries coming through in the next Vendee Globe.”
Since its inception in 1998, all seven editions of the Vendee Globe have been won by Frenchmen.
But in 2010, the Artemis Offshore Academy was launched in Cowes, with the ultimate goal being to challenge that hegemony by producing the first British winner of round-the-world yacht race – the pinnacle of single/short-handed sailing.
Alex's achievement in finishing the fastest ever Vendee Globe in third behind Francois Gabart and Armel Le Cleach has done its cause a power of good.
Performance director John Thorn said: “Having a British Vendee Globe winner in 2016 or 2020 is definitely achievable.
“Alex has shown what can be done with the right training and a good sponsor behind you.
“We’ve made progress in producing sailors with the ability to go fast and win. We’re laying the foundations in terms of personnel, but we need to make sure we capitalise on that by getting the right sponsors, which isn’t easy in the current financial climate.”
The academy has produced several graduates, some of whom have 2016 Vendee Globe ambitions.
“We looked at what the French did,” explained John. “They train their sailors in the Figaro class, which teaches the same skill sets as you would need and experience in the Vendee Globe, just on a smaller and more affordable scale.”
The academy’s sailors will hone their skills in several races this year, including this summer’s Solitaire du Figaro.
“It’s very technical and tactical, but the challenge with the Vendee is reproducing those skills over 24,000 miles instead of 500 miles,” added John, who oversees a holistic approach that teaches every skill required during three months of solo racing.
That includes how to survive on a diet of freeze-dried food.
Nick Cherry is among those who have learned their trade at the Artemis Offshore Academy and now has his eye on Vendee Globe glory.
He said: “The academy has given me a foot in the door. What Alex has done is inspiring, especially as he used an older generation boat.
“I’ve got a few more years in the Figaro class, which is a much more realistic budget, but hopefully I’ll find a sponsor and be ready for the Vendee in 2020.”
Other Artemis graduates from Southampton include Aaron Cooper, 24, and Ollie Bond, 33.